Category Archives: Annotated Games

The Danger Of A King Out Of Play In The Endgame

In a hard-fought game my student played that ended in a draw, when we were looking at it, I observed that his opponent missed a win at one single critical moment. This was a result of an accumulation of positionally questionable decisions that, although in themselves still led to defensible positions, led to a single blunder that could have been punished.

Three mistakes

Allowing an outside passed Pawn

The first unnecessary concession was made in the late middlegame when Black captured a piece on a5 allowing a recapture with a Pawn bxa5 resulting in White getting an outside passed Pawn. Granted, this being a Rook Pawn made it not as useful, but still created unnecessary danger.

King out of play

The second unnecessary concession was moving the King from g8 to h7, out of the main action. It was best to moving the King toward the center and toward the Queenside, with the goals of safeguarding the Pawn chain from c6 as well as, more critically, aiming toward White’s a-Pawn, either to capture it or at least prevent it from Queening. Granted, Black had a plan to get the King to f4, but it is slow. In fact, it ended up working in the game, but only because White did not act more quickly and decisively to try to Queen the a-Pawn.

Creating another outside Pawn for the opponent

The final concession, which in this case was a big blunder, was to accept White’s sneaky offer of a Queen trade, resulting in transforming White’s c-Pawn into an “outside” b-Pawn that could have been used as a Pawn break to lead the way for White’s King to invade the Queen side and successfully Queen the a-Pawn. A calculation shows that Black’s attempt to also Queen a passed Pawn is too late, because White’s active King can get to Black’s King side Pawns in time to ensure that after White gives up the Rook in turn, the resulting King and Pawn ending is an easy win because Black’s King ends up out of play and White can just push a passed Pawn to victory.

Lessons

The main lessons to learn are that even in a drawable position, it is wise to keep the draw simple by not giving a passed Pawn to the opponent, not giving a Pawn break to the opponent, and keeping one’s King ready to prevent Queening of a passed Pawn if it does exist.

Franklin Chen

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Another Comedy of Errors

This is a game that I played back in July of 1990. This is one of four chess games that I played against Rick Christopher back then. I won three of those games and lost one of them. This game is one of my wins.

Rick was a player that I didn’t take seriously because I was rated much higher than he was and because he never wore shoes to any chess tournaments that I can remember, not even in the winter! In this game I got a little lazy and did not see some of my opportunities to win more quickly and Rick (White) missed some opportunities to equalize. I basically waited for Rick to blunder and then won the endgame after he did blunder. This strategy does work against weaker players, but it is better for my game play overall to force errors.

Mike Serovey

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Anticipating The Endgame As Part Of Understanding The Opening

The 2014 World Chess Championship rematch between Carlsen and Anand kicked off with Carlsen playing the Grünfeld as Black, an interesting choice since he does not usually play this opening, and in fact Anand is the one who prepared the Grünfeld as Black in 2013. The game proceeded along a path in which Anand as White lost an opening initiative and got into some trouble but held an unpleasant endgame.

Since detailed commentary from many strong players is already available and will continue to be provided as the match progresses, so why should I write out it here at The Chess Improver? My goal here is to describe the big picture that players of many levels can relate to and hopefully apply to their own play.

The goal of the Grünfeld Defense opening

Black’s goal in playing the Grünfeld Defense is to try to destroy White’s center, by targeting White’s Pawn on d4. The asymmetrical Pawn structure that arises when White’s c-Pawn is exchanged with Black’s d-Pawn gives Black possible chances to contain White’s d-Pawn and counterattack with a Queen side Pawn majority.

White has a choice of goals in return, and has to make a decision. (Take note if you are following the match, because we may see the Grünfeld pop up again with players making different decisions.) The three basic choices are to:

  • Grab the big center with e4, advance with d5 eventually, possibly make a passed d-Pawn for the endgame.
  • Forget the endgame, go all out with an attack on Black’s King based on h4, h5, etc.
  • Forget the big center, protect the d4 Pawn with e3, block in Black’s Bishop on g7, and try to make headway on the Queenside.

What happened in this game

What actually happened was Anand played as though aiming for one of the first two, but was inconsistent in followup. He got the center and then played as though to attack Black’s King: Qd2, allowing his Knight on f3 to be captured by Black’s Bishop permanently messing up White’s Pawn structure (doubled f-Pawns, isolated h-Pawn), castling Queen side. But he never did attack Black’s King after all, and the Pawn on d5 didn’t get any further.

So Black’s defense, based on destroying White’s Pawn structure and surviving any attack, with the aim of reaching a superior endgame, worked out. Anand had to be careful to hold the draw in face of his isolated and weak f and h Pawns.

The main thing I want to point out is that it was not automatically bad for White to allow the weakened Pawn structure. Before the endgame, there is the middlegame. It is a valid, aggressive idea for White to decide not to try to win the endgame, but instead the middlegame. It just didn’t work out in this particular game.

Franklin Chen

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Amateur Versus Master: Game Twelve

My opponent is this game is a Senior Master and is the only 2400 rated player that I have faced in Over the Board chess. Gary has won the State of Florida Chess Championship at least once and has also run the state championship as the senior tournament director for that event at least once. The state championship several years ago was the last time that I saw Gary in person. Gary is a year or two older than I am and he also has some chronic health problems. Gary has managed to keep is USCF chess rating over 2400 points for about 40 years now.

I learned the Botvinnik System from a USCF Life Master who did not know what it was called at that time. He advised against playing this system as Black, but I often get away with it and Botvinnik himself played it as Black. In this game I missed a shot at an upset victory on move number 12. Gary most likely would have found the correct line of play, but it may have rattled him anyway.

I walked into a Knight fork on move number 13 and lost the exchange of a Rook for Knight. Things went downhill for from there.

Mike Serovey

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The Art Of Attacking A Slightly Weakened King Side

In a recent tournament game, as White I ended up misplaying a Semi-Tarrasch type of early middlegame, allowing Black easy equality after committing to the e5 advance (giving up control of the d5 square) and not taking advantage of Black’s lag in development. However, I managed to win by stubbornly trying to attack a slightly weakened King side, resulting from my forcing g6 to avoid mate on h7. Even after g6, however, Black’s position was fine. But at least I had something to work with. This game is instructive because it shows how to try to make progress based on just a single possible weakness in the opponent’s position.

The story

Black made the error of trading off the dark-squared Bishops, permanently weakening f6 and h6 and d6. Again, objectively Black’s position was still solid and fine, because of his very strong Knight on d5 that guarded the f6 square anyway.

But I did some maneuvering and waiting to allow my opponent to make one inaccuracy after another, resulting in Black voluntarily moving the Knight away from d5 to b6 and my own Knight getting to a d6 outpost, thanks to Black’s missing dark Bishop.

Finally, Black made a tactical inaccuracy that allowed me to win the a7 Pawn. Even after this, objectively the position should have been an easy draw, thanks to simplification and Black’s total control over the d5 square. But Black gave up the light-squared Bishop for mine, resulting in a position in which I had still had a bind and remote chances to try for a King side attack.

It turned out that Black maneuvered poorly, making his own Rooks passive and away from his King, and finally erring with moving his Queen also away from his King, to the Queen side. This allowed me to land my Knight on f6 just in time as the King side was undefended, and through some tactics win the f7 Pawn and the game.

A long grind of a game, but I was happy that my patience was rewarded.

Franklin Chen

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Two North Americans Take on the English

My Canadian opponent and I played the English Opening to a draw. After about 20 moves it became clear to me that we were evenly matched and that I was unlikely to win.

After three moves I could have transposed into the Queen’s Gambit Declined, but I have never liked playing the White side of that opening. I also considered trying to transpose into the Catalan Opening.

Black’s fifth move took me out of the QGD and into something that I had never seen before. Black’s eighth move took me completely out of my database of games and from that point on I was on my own.

White gets his pawn back on his ninth move. Black offered to trade queens on his tenth move but White declines because he did not want to strengthen the Black Center after 11. Qxd5 cxd5.

From move number 14 on White is trying to trade down into what he believed would be a slightly better endgame for him. On move  number 18 White wins a pawn. Black does not want to trade rooks on the d file if it will give White control of that file. White also realized that if Black captures his pawn on b3 with his Bishop then White can play a Rook over to b1 and take the pawn on b7 after that Bishop moves. If White ever got a Rook on the seventh rank (Black’s second rank) then Black would have some problems defending his position.

After deciding that my extra pawn on the Kingside may not be enough to win I offered a draw and Sam accepted.

Mike Serovey

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The Common Problem Of Following A Pattern Without Understanding It

Last week, I wrote about the importance of learning and teaching through comparing similar but different situations. Again and again this theme pops up, and is easy to miss if one is not careful. It is easy to memorize a pattern without understanding its context and purpose, or more charitably, to have understood it once but getting it mixed up with another pattern during the heat of battle. What is the solution? Sometimes the solution is just to review concrete details. Sometimes the solution is to remember a higher-priority pattern that gives real force and justification to the pattern at hand.

Here’s an example I recently saw, involving the elementary Lucena position which is a win for the side with the Rook and Pawn versus Rook, if one understands the fundamental concept, which is “building a bridge” in order to block the opposing Rook’s checks and therefore ensure Pawn promotion.

Lucena position

The standard easy win for White is to

  1. Chase Black’s King further away from the Queening square by checking.
  2. Lift the Rook to the 4th rank in preparation to “build a bridge”.

However, White in eagerness to “remember” the key pattern, that of the Rook lift, failed to perform the first critical step, and the result was a draw by mistake! Building the bridge is pointless if it only results in Black’s King reaching the advanced Pawn and gobbling it up.

The solution to this mistake is to remember that the primary goal in this position is not to build the bridge. The real goal is to successfully Queen the Pawn, and getting Black’s King far away is the most important part of that, not the bridge building. The bridge building is not the goal, but the means to the larger goal. Without remember this, it is too easy to just vaguely remember one aspect of what the winning technique is, and use it outside of the larger context.

Franklin Chen

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San Pedro Escapes the Four Knights of the Apocalypse!

According to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, the original meaning of apocalypse is an uncovering, translated literally from Greek as a disclosure of knowledge, i.e., a lifting of the veil or revelation, although this sense did not enter English until the 14th century. In religious contexts it is usually a disclosure of something hidden. Christians changed the meaning to ‘end of the world’ because the Apocalypse of John is about the end of the world.

In this case, what was revealed is that my opponent does not know how to play the Four Knights variation of the Sicilian Defense and is weak in middle games. However, he avoided the blunders that would have allowed me to win this game. I settled for a draw against an inexperienced player while I was up two pawns. On move number 34 I was inspired to look at an idea, but I got impatient and I rejected it before I realized that it actually wins. I was preparing to move out of my apartment over Labor Day Weekend and I wanted to end this game before I moved out and took a time out from my remaining games. If I had been more patient I would have found the winning ideas. Mr. Generoso was generous in giving me those two pawns and he may have thought that it was the end of the world while he was struggling to draw down material. ;-)

I took that lazy man’s shortcut and played the way I had played in two previous chess games. The first time that I had an endgame with my Rook on the queening square and my opponent’s Rook behind my passed pawn was at the State of Florida Chess Championship of 1986. If I remember correctly, my opponent was a 1200 rated player. He blundered by moving his King to the third rank and that allowed me to move my rook off the queening square with check and then queen the passed pawn. The second time I had this kind of endgame I played more than 60 moves before I realized that I could not force a win and that my opponent was not going to blunder. After this game I am going to endeavor to avoid having my Rook in front of a passed pawn again!

This game was my second draw and Pedro’s only draw so far. What is even more embarrassing for me is that Pedro has three losses so far in this section. At the time that I am writing this I have four draws and no wins or losses in this section. I need to win at least one of my two remaining games in order to get second place in this section.

Mike Serovey

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Basic Endgames Teach How To Tie Together Mathematics And Logic

In the game of chess, each lowly Pawn has the potential to promote to a powerful Queen by advancing all the way to the 8th rank. Also, there’s a remarkable rule that if one side cannot make any legal moves, the game is actually a draw, rather than a loss for the paralyzed side. These two facts create the phase of a chess game called the endgame, where a player has the opportunity to out-think and out-trick the opponent.

Logic

Chess has a well-deserved reputation for being a game of logic. Indeed, fundamentally the game really is a matter of logic, in the sense that everything is about managing the fact that everything boils down to “if I do this, then she can do that, but then I can do this other thing”, and therefore a decision tree of immense breadth and depth. Nowhere is this more true than in the endgame, where being one move ahead of the other side may mean the difference between a win and a draw: and in fact, being one move ahead does not always win, but sometimes even loses (in situations called Zugzwang where getting somewhere first means the other side can make a waiting move and then pounce).

For example, a basic endgame position everyone must learn is the following King and Pawn versus Pawn position. Black to move, there is only one move that draws; the other two moves lose.

This is a perfect position to use to teach children how to think logically, even if they don’t otherwise play chess. They don’t even need to know how to checkmate with a Queen against King. You can just teach them how the King and Pawn work, and set the goal for White as being to get the Pawn to the 8th rank without its being captured. In fact, I think chess would be much more useful in teaching logic if play was arranged starting from simplified positions in endgames, skipping the much more complex phases of the opening and middlegame.

Meta-reasoning

Once a chess player begins applying logical reasoning, an observant player will observe that she is reusing certain patterns in reasoning again and again. This is where reasoning about reasoning, or meta-reasoning, comes in. The concept of “taking the opposition” in chess is one of the simplest examples. In the position above, Black draws by arranging it so that if White’s King advances, Black’s King is in position to “take the opposition” and prevent further progress. So the principle of opposition is not a part of the game of chess, but part of how we can reasoning about the game of chess. A chess player could in theory just apply the “rule” of opposition to play chess well, but without actually understanding why it works, would be missing a huge part of what chess is about: discovering patterns, proving facts about them (this is the “meta-reasoning”), and applying the patterns as building blocks.

Mathematics

This leads to the topic of mathematics in chess. I take the point of view that certain ways of effectively making decisions in chess amount to doing mathematics, going beyond just logic: arithmetic, algebra, geometry. There are many connections to be made here that, when made explicit, can greatly aid in transferring skills out of chess itself.

For today, I’ll just mention a connection with arithmetic and geometry. In the position below, White to move can win, but only by very precise play. The aim is to prevent Black from taking the opposition, and then for White to take the opposition and reduce the problem to the previously mentioned position. The concept of reducing to a previously proved fact is fundamental to logical reasoning, of course. So where does the mathematics come in?

First of all, it must be understood that there is a race between the two Kings to get to one of the critical squares in front of White’s Pawn that will determine whether White can win: White must get the King to d6, e6, or f6. So there may be some kind of counting implicit in whatever logical reasoning is used.

From a geometrical point of view, what is important to understand is that because Kings have to move either horizontally, vertically, or diagonally, “distance” on the chess board is not the same as the “bird’s eye view” visual spatial distance: chess operates on a more abstract geometrical space where, for example, all things being equal, diagonal moves can get a King somewhere much faster than just horizontal or vertical moves.

Arithmetic comes in to tie in this geometric insight with the logic-based goal-setting and reduction: the simple way to determine whether this position is a win for White is to count how many moves it takes to reach a desired square, and to count whether Black can stop this. Arithmetic is basically a meta-reasoning shortcut for otherwise engaging in low-level “if this, then that” logical reasoning. Here, we see that White can, in 3 moves, reach d5 unimpeded, because in 2 moves, Black can at most reach f6. Then we tie up the reasoning with one bit of logic/geometry: after White’s King is on d5 and Black’s King on f6, Black’s King must go to e7 to prevent White from getting to d6. But then this allows White to get to e5, taking the opposition and winning the game.

I believe that this endgame position is very instructive for showing how to apply multiple levels and styles of logical and mathematical understanding to be able to guarantee a desired result. Any student who can master (as tested by playing out as either side to the optimal result) and be able to explain the evaluation of each position in which the Pawn is on e4 and the other Kings are on any other squares on the board will have demonstrated a real understanding of logical reasoning.

Franklin Chen

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The Temptation To Play Safe Can Prevent Improvement

A student of mine lost a game almost straight out of the opening as a result of facing Alekhine’s Defense as White and overextending and losing the advanced e5 Pawn; there may have been drawing chances later in the game, but losing the e5 Pawn at move 13 was not fun:

Avoid overreacting to the loss

This kind of thing happens to all of us: we can play too aggressively or carelessly, and end up losing. That’s natural. But how we respond to our failure can determine whether we improve or simply get demoralized. In his disappointment, he suggested that maybe he should meet Alekhine’s Defense with the cautious d3, protecting the e4 Pawn and refusing to play into Black’s provocative idea of causing White to advance with e5.

OK, d3 is objectively not horrible, so why not play this? There are a couple of reasons:

  • If Black plays …e5, then you as White are playing a Philidor reversed with an extra move. Now, if you already play the Philidor as Black, this might well be just fine for you.

    But if you don’t play the Philidor as Black because you don’t like the cramped positions, then why would you want to play it in reverse as White? From a psychological point of view, it makes no sense to open the game with e4 if you don’t have a clear plan on taking on the Alekhine.

  • If you do not play e5, you are passing up a great opportunity to learn how to try to use a space advantage in chess. This is an important skill to work on. In less “unusual” openings the the Alekhine, White has to fight hard to get an undisputed space advantage, so it is a shame not to take up the challenge immediately when it is presented on move 2.

Take a middle path

In the game, White played the ambitious Four Pawns Attack against the Alekhine, trying to support the e5 Pawn with the f-Pawn, etc. Another wrong lesson to learn would be that White should not play the Four Pawns Attack. It is quite playable, if one is tactically precise. So I could advise studying all the various tricky lines Black has against the Four Pawns Attack.

But for an improver, I advise taking a middle path. Instead of either cowering in fear with d3 or going all out with the Four Pawns Attack, there are two other possible variations for White that are positionally quite sound and should ensure White a pleasant game with a space advantage, and completely avoid the problem of a possibly overextended e5 Pawn.

The Modern Variation with 4 Nf3 is quite sound, intending to recapture on e5 with the Knight if necessary. The Exchange Variation with 4 exd6 is also sound, dissolving the e5 Pawn entirely. So I advise learning the ideas behind one of these variations before embarking on other possible variations against the Alekhine.

The advantages of taking a middle path:

  • The solid positional approach is always useful to learn and understand, even if later on one chooses the sharper approach.
  • If is not yet prepared for tactical trickery, it is quite justifiable for an improver to step back from it and save exploration of sharp lines for later.
  • It can sometimes be useful to build up confidence after an annoying loss by avoiding an awkward line in any case.

Franklin Chen

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